Health fears to the fore in row over election call

Voters will go to the polls on March 2.
Voters will go to the polls on March 2.

Foyle DUP MLA Gary Middleton accused Sinn Fein of putting its political agenda ahead of people’s health as a snap election was confirmed on Monday.

The March 2 poll follows the collapse of the power-sharing Executive over the Renewable Heat Initiative controversy.

Mr Middleton expressed his anger that recently announced health service reforms in Northern Ireland will be put on hold after Secretary of State James Brokenshire moved to dissolve the Assembly by January 26.

Mr Middleton said: “As a result of the short term electoral stunt by Sinn Fein and their resignation from the Executive, plans to address waiting lists and waiting times will go unfunded and unaddressed. The waiting list strategy which was due to be released later this month will now not be implemented.

“Sinn Fein’s decision also means that a budget will not be set by the Executive at Stormont for the incoming year, ensuring that the health reforms set out in the recent Bengoa report will not become a reality. Our health service staff and patients deserve better.

“It is clear that when the decision was taken by Sinn Fein to collapse the Executive, their responsibilities as government ministers were not taken into account.

“The Health Minister should’ve been dealing with her health agenda rather than her Republican one.

“We must ensure these short-sighted stunts do not result in long-term damage.”

With Sinn Fein refusing to nominate anyone for deputy First Minister after the previous week’s resignation of Martin McGuinness, the move to an election was seen as inevitable.

Speaking at Stormont, Health Minister Michelle O’Neill said: “If something is broken, you stop and you fix it. Today Sinn Féin will not re-nominate for the position of deputy First Minister.”

Along with Mr Middleton and McGuinness, the outgoing Foyle MLAs are Sinn Fein’s Raymond McCartney, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood and party colleague Mark H Durkan and People Before Profit’s Eamonn McCann.

It is unclear at this stage how many of them will be contesting the election and who else will join the fray, but with the electorate returning one fewer representative this time - the number of MLAs in all constituencies is reducing to five - another close contest is anticipated.